Chapter 2 – Good Knight
“What made you think that I would enjoy a cabin in the middle of no where?” Howie finally grumbled once he and Kevin made it to the dirt path that wrapped around the Smoky Mountain’s camping resort. It was one of the best renowned areas, or at least that’s what Kevin had said. The beauty of the mountains was breathtaking and the sharpness of the fresh air cleared his lungs like no other. There was a calmness and serenity that passed through him as he noticed the other camping lots off in the distance. But, despite the wonders, he had already been baffled by Kevin’s decision to take him to North Carolina, figuring they could have at least managed to find some island off the east coast to enjoy. But, to be stranded in the middle of no where, next to a large lake, and hidden in the dense forest brush was slightly unnerving. Howie supposed his nervousness was because of seeing so many horror movies which were set in this very scene, having wild, uncivilized populace attacking him from every bush. Possibly even jumping from the trees as another element of surprise. He wasn’t quite exactly sure, immediately glancing back to the cabin they would be occupying for three months.
Kevin paused on the trail, closing his eyes as the peacefulness of the atmosphere swept through him. Already he could feel the weight being lifted from his shoulders. "I thought you wanted to get away. Well, here we are. Away." Adjusting the brim of his cap as the warm March sun beat down on them, he continued along the trail. Despite the numerous campers, the only sounds that reached his ears were the gentle hum of insects, the whispering of the pines as a soft breeze blew. Breathing in the crisp mountain air, he felt comforted, the lingering doubts he'd had earlier slowly sweeping away. As they made their way down the path, he heard the excited chattering of squirrels, and, father away, the gentle splash of a pinecone in the lake. Never mind Howie's obvious distaste of the wilderness, he decided. This was exactly what he needed.
“I guess I could just consider myself lucky that you made sure we at least had a cabin with all the luxuries instead of having me cop a squat in the woods with a bunch of leaves as toilet paper,” Howie murmured, glancing sideways at his older friend to see him elicit a sinful smile.
“You’d be even luckier if I managed to remind you which leaves are poisonous,” Kevin jibbed and, in return, Howie actually chuckled.
It wasn't so bad, Howie decided, feeling himself relax more with each step. In fact, it was downright--
The feminine shriek pierced his thoughts, echoing in the woods. Coming to a complete standstill, Howie looked cautiously around, half expecting to see a python slithering at him, fangs drawn. "Uh, Kev? You didn't mention snakes."
Kevin was further ahead, listening closely to the terrified squeals. Two girls, he decided. Hoping it wasn't poisonous, he rounded the bend, pausing only for a second when he saw a young woman huddled on a large rock. To the side of the path, on her hands and knees, was another young woman, reaching out to grasp something moving behind a fallen limb.
“You shouldn’t joke like that Austi! You know I always fall for that and then there’s a real snake right in the middle of the path!” the young woman perched on the rock scolded as Howie and Kevin quickly neared the situation. Her voice was filled with a sweet southern disposition despite her startled state. And she looked none too pleased with her friend attempting to wrangle the snake, but made no move to get down from the rock. “I absolutely refuse to suck poison from your body!”
Howie skidded to a stop as Kevin continued forward. Austi, the snake wrangler, pulled herself up to her feet, still leaning over. He could only stare when Kevin grasped her arm, attempting to pull her way from imminent danger. In a blur, his friend was rolled over the small woman's frame, landing with a startled groan on the path. Clapping a hand over his mouth, eyes wide with amusement, he glanced to see the girl on the rock staring in shock.
"Austi!" she gasped, her expression showing her mortification.
“Just stay up there till I find the damn snake, Cheyanne,” Austi demanded, completely unfazed by her decision to toss Kevin like a rag doll and that he was groaning painfully just at her feet. She didn’t seem to care about the man, which enthralled Howie as the words to ask if she was alright died in his mouth. After all, he didn’t want to tempt her to flip him, too. Instead, he watched as her dark brown eyes tore over the nearby brush, searching for what she had been trying to capture all along. She immediately jumped into the long blades of grass, making loud grunting noises in attempts to scare away the measly beast.
“Austin…” Cheyanne repeated, shaking her head in disbelief, but still kept her perch on the rock.
"Are you alright?" Howie asked her, noting the way she hugged her knees to her chest.
Glancing at him furtively, she nodded, her gaze returning to her friend. "Austin, he was only trying to help," she admonished softly.
"I can kill a damn snake without Pretty City Boy’s help!" Austin declared, stomping her boot-clad foot on the ground. Glancing around, she muttered a string of expletives. "Where'd the sumbitch go?"
"You're welcome," Kevin spat, slamming his fist into the dirt. His ass still smarted, and he groaned in pain as he stood, dusting his jeans off.
“I already said I didn’t need any help,” Austin growled aggressively toward Kevin, who naturally took a step away from her for fear of being flipped yet again. She seemed satisfied with his reaction as she pushed her dark brown locks away from her eyes, huffing a sharp breath before brushing the dirt from her bare knees. She then stood straight, though she couldn’t have barely reached Kevin’s chest, she exuded a wild passion and brutality that probably would have caused Kevin to cross the street if he had seen her anywhere else in life. Her dark mocha eyes warned Kevin to keep his distance as she crossed her arms curtly against her chest. “And if I did, it would only be to ask which campsite you’re staying in so I can hide the little pissfuck in your sleeping bag.”
“Austin…” Cheyanne groaned in dismay, obviously far too familiar with Austin’s maliciousness. Brushing a few rich honey blonde curls from her eyes, she attempted to crawl back down from the rock. The snake was long gone by now, especially when Kevin’s body had practically quaked the earth. She slipped slightly against the rock and was surprised when the quiet man extended her a hand. She stopped halfway, somewhat ignorant of the raging egos ahead of her, just studying Howie’s soft hand before glancing up to catch his dark chocolate eyes practically flaming her soul.
"Come on, Chey," Austin said, her eyes throwing daggers at Kevin. Hugging herself tightly, she turned and walked down the trail, knowing Cheyanne would be right behind her.
Nervously chewing her bottom lip, Cheyanne hesitantly accepted the hand still being held out for her. Smiling apologetically, she quickly pulled away from his warmth, though a tiny part of her longed to stay. "I'm sorry. Don't worry about the snake, after all her yelling, he's probably hightailed it back to the lake. Thank you," she said softly to Kevin as she slipped past him, rushing after Austin.
“Glad to know southern hospitality is still alive and well!” Kevin hollered toward the spitfire that had quickly thrown him into his place before he could say otherwise. His pride and ego sorely damaged as he rubbed his still stinging backside. Somehow, he just couldn’t allow her to have the last word.
“You seem to make friends wherever you go, huh, Kev?” Howie suggested with a faint smirk, his eyes still fixed on the shy woman jogging down the pathway to catch up to her brooding friend. He had to smile as her long blonde locks caught within the soft breeze, carrying like a golden ribbon as she reached to grasp her friend’s arm, instantly curling against her as they walked in unison. Something about her had instantly caught him by the very depth of his heart. Maybe it was the way she was perched on the rock, looking for some kind of knight to rescue her, or perhaps the way her dark sapphire eyes melted into his at the first connection. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he was stirred. For the first time in months, he felt lifted.
"Just call me Mr. Personality," Kevin muttered, brushing the dust from his worn jeans. That little spitfire had all but told him to go to hell, and he was sure, had she stayed long enough, he would have received that pleasure as well. The sparks of indignation in her eyes when she'd whirled around had startled him, and he hadn't expected to have a lie down so soon. Yeah, right, he thought, glancing after the two young women. Certainly, had he even expected it, she would have been able to knock him to the ground in one fell swoop.
“Austi, you do realize that he was only trying to help, right?” Cheyanne questioned out of no where as she handed the package of hotdogs to her older friend, watching her naturally tense at the mere mention of their saviors from earlier that day. Cheyanne attempted to offer her friend a sweet smile, but Austin looked none too pleased as she took the hotdogs to settle on the grill for their dinner that evening. Since returning to their campsite, neither woman had spoke of the incident earlier that afternoon. In fact, they had acted as if it never had happened, enjoying the peacefulness of their long vacation away from the stresses of their reality. But, Cheyanne couldn’t get away from the dark chocolate eyes that seemed to follow her throughout the day. She had hoped to tell Austin, but that was a lost cause. So, exhaling softly, Cheyanne obliged her friend’s nonverbal cues, simply seating herself next to their fire pit to create glowing warmth for them before they tumbled into their sleeping bags for the night. In all honesty, Cheyanne truly did understand why Austin was so hostile when the bulky fellow reached for her arm, but sometimes Austin had a way of being vicious for no apparent reason to the opposite sex. Besides, what did she have against the man who had offered Cheyanne a hand?
Austin glanced over at Cheyanne as she set to work on the fire. Loathe to admit it, she was mortified at her actions earlier. The all too familiar fear that had gripped her when the hand clamped down on her arm had immediately turned to defiance, and she hadn't realized until she heard his groan what she had done. The months of self defense training really paid off, she thought wryly, turning the hotdogs as they sizzled. Never one to apologize, she'd instead let her anger take over. Didn't he know better than to go around manhandling strange women? Biting back a smile as she reached into the cooler for sodas, she remembered his stunned expression. She had to smother a giggle as she remembered the way he'd stepped quickly away. Clearing her throat loudly, she handed Cheyanne a drink, looking over at the magnificent sunset, her thoughts on a pair of emerald eyes that had glittered.
"Austi! The dogs are burning!"
Austin lurched in surprise at Cheyanne’s outburst, causing her to immediately glance down at the small gas grill they had lugged for their trip. Sure enough, the sizzling dogs were practically in flames. Growling with frustration for letting her mind wander on a man that could only cause trouble, she immediately reached for the thongs to yank the hotdogs away from the flames. She had to remember to stay away from the flames if she didn’t want to get burned again. “Damnit!”
“Preoccupied?” Cheyanne questioned in surprise, watching her friend fumble with the hotdogs while cursing up a storm.
"Just wondering where the snake ended up at," Austin said quickly, pulling the hotdogs onto a paper plate. A little crisp, but still good.
"You lie," Cheyanne said with a knowing smirk, dropping onto the bench at the small picnic table they had found upon their arrival. Sweeping her hand over the plastic top, she pulled the basket of condiments closer as Austin sat across from her.
"I never lie." Austin affected a look of utter disbelief, sticking out her tongue when Cheyanne laughed at her.
Shaking salt onto her overly crisp hotdog, Cheyanne shook her head. "You sure about that? I swear, your nose just grew two inches."
“Chey, I swear to God…” Austin growled with a sharp threat to her southern tones, holding her hotdog toward Cheyanne like a weapon. Only, Cheyanne’s sweet, charismatic smile caused Austin to instantly weaken. She had known the younger woman since they shared their first college dormitory room at UNC Charlotte. Austin hadn’t known what to exactly think when she stepped into the room to find the sweet, shy Cheyanne fixing her side of the room, practically pleading for Austin to swear that it was alright she took that side. But, it was only a matter of time before Austin helped loosen the tight coils wrapped around Cheyanne. She had touched a place in Cheyanne’s heart that no one else could ever possibly reach and that’s why Austin was fiercely protective. Cheyanne was too na´ve when it came to hardships.
“I’m just saying… I think you were thinking of a different snake…” Cheyanne sang softly with an impish smirk, reminding Austin of why she loved the younger woman so.